Oscars: Japan's 'Her Love Boils Bathwater' Offers Its Director a Second Chance

Her Love Boils Bathwater Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Her Love Boils Bathwater Film Partners

Ryoto Nakano almost gave up on the movie business, but with only his second film, he has become one of the hottest filmmakers in Japan.

Her Love Boils Bathwater doesn’t sound like it has Oscar contender written all over it when considering that the filmmaker wasn’t a big movie fan, was fired as an assistant director and dropped out of the film business. But this foreign-language hopeful has won 35 awards and made its helmer, Ryota Nakano, one of the most in-demand new directors in Japan.

“I was about 23 or 24 years old when I decided to be a director, after I’d graduated university really late. I wasn’t even a big film fan when I was young,” recalls Nakano, sitting in his favorite coffee shop in Kawasaki, outside Tokyo, where he writes his scripts.

After graduation, Nakano’s early attempt to hone his craft as an assistant director didn’t bode well. “I was useless,” he declares. “Seriously, no good at it at all, and I got fired in the middle of a shoot. I dropped out of the movie business for a couple of years.”

After working on “really small television shows” for a few years, Nakano realized he wanted to make movies after all and began developing his own projects. Approaching 40, he resolved to give directing a real shot and “went into a lot of debt” to make Capturing Dad in 2012. The story of two sisters trying to reconnect with a dying father who had abandoned their family won critical praise and awards at home and abroad. It also convinced Nakano he could make Bathwater, a script he had written nearly a decade earlier.

Bathwater revolves around a dysfunctional family whose matriarch (played by Rie Miyazawa, one of Japan’s most popular actresses) wants to resolve the familial conflicts after discovering she is terminally ill. The backdrop is the family’s bathhouse business, which is as rundown and in need of repair as their relationships.

“All I had at the beginning was my script. I was a new director with no name, but I had confidence in the script,” he says. “Rie Miyazawa read it and wanted to make the film. A top Japanese actress like Miyazawa coming on board was huge. From there, then budget went up a bit, too,” recalls Nakano with a laugh.

He says setting the film in a bathhouse — known as a sento in Japan— was central to the story he wanted to tell. “It’s a strange aspect of Japanese culture,” he says, “getting into a big bath with strangers, who strike up conversations with each other. I think Japan, and probably the world, is suffering from a lack of communication these days.” It could be a good omen: The last Japanese foreign-language Oscar entry to prominently feature a sento was Yojiro Takita’s Departures in 2009, and it went on to capture the Academy Award.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.